I wish there was more education around BPD

Since about the age of 10 I’ve had depression and depressive episodes, I always knew there was something else to it, but only a few months ago I got diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). This was also the first time in my 23 years of living I had even heard of this disorder.

People hear the words “personality disorder” and presume the worst of the worst or don’t know how to react, this makes it extremely difficult for people like myself to open up, even to friends and family.

Depression is not an emotion - it's an illness

Ah, mental health stigma surrounding depression. The worst that's been said to me in the last 9 years of having depression is:

"Don't go and have a Helen moment on me!"

"Don't quit your job. I know your job has been making you feel depressed but you're being stupid. You haven't tried hard enough."

"Is that all your depressed about?"

"Stop being ungrateful and take your Great Aunt's advice!"

Please, stop.

'Self-stigma' is real and we need to talk about it

When I started taking antidepressants for the first time last year, I was scared of what people would think. Whilst I knew, rationally, that there is no shame in taking medication for a health condition, I was flinching away from the imagined reactions of those who knew me.

I told a select few. Partially because I was advised to, and as an advocate for mental health, it would have been hypocritical of me to stay quiet.

The best way to understand someone's mental health problem is to talk to them

My name’s Carl, I’m 26 years old and I’ve suffered with anxiety and depression for over 10 years. However I suspect even before then there were some mental health issues going on.

I think it's key to talk and create an open discussion on mental health. I believe it should be treated in the exact same way that physical health is treated. We will very likely have either been affected or know someone close to us who is suffering from mental health issues, and it’s a very serious problem. Suicide is the number one killer of men under the age of 45, which is a terrifying statistic.

Mental health stigma doesn't solve issues, it just makes them worse

So where do I begin?

I've been told since I was 12 that my constant stress, sickness and weakness, and panic attacks were nothing more than attention-seeking behaviour.

I didn't want to make friends, but I didn't want to be alone. I didn't want to leave the house, but I couldn't live with the idea of me being a failure. I didn't want to admit something was wrong, but at some point I had to.

Don't judge me just because you don't understand

I've been a "worrier" for as long as I can remember. I worry about things that may never even happen. I worry about a minor quibble or mistake until it evolves into an apocalypse-style scenario. Logically, I know what I'm thinking is implausible or even impossible, but in that moment, the fear is incredibly real.

My family didn't believe I was struggling with my mental health

For a long while, I've been having issues with mental health. I remember asking my mum one day years ago if hearing and seeing things was normal and her response still sticks with me. "You're too young and don't know what REAL mental health problems are."

I have anxiety, I'm not "crazy"

My battle with anxiety started during summer 2018. From when I was diagnosed I knew I was about to embark on a tough and challenging journey. Not just me, but everyone who was close to me as well. It was really hard to come to terms with the fact that it would take time to be okay again and even harder to accept that it could hit me again at any time.

If someone's struggling, try to help them, don't blame them

I was 23 years old, I had found the person I was going to spend the rest of my life with, and I was feeling content…and then out of the blue, a bombshell came that was going to massively affect my life. My wife, being a caring and compassionate person, tried to help a family member financially, and was left with their crippling debts. We stuck together through the two years of fixing the damage, but it took so much out of me emotionally. Sadly our relationship has never been the same.

Ask twice and let them know you're there to listen

Someone who has shown me they were in my corner was my friend Sandra who I first met at work; we became friends after recognising our similar tastes in books, and penchant for morning coffee.

We'd eventually come to realise we had more in common than initially thought.

I don't know how to explain it fully but when I talked to her, about anything and everything I felt that sense of "this is a safe space, this person gets me".

Talking about mental health is not a weakness — we need to break the stigma

I remember the day I decided to take my own life, that moment was the first time I’d had clarity of thought for as long as I could remember.  There was a huge sense of relief that I had finally realised how I could take back control over what was happening to me.  The irony was that things in my life had never been so good.  I had just become a father for the first time (my daughter was 6 months old), I had a wonderful supportive and caring wife, a lovely home, and a great group of family and friends around me.  However, by this stage anxiety and depression had taken over.

I'm trying my best, like everyone else - don't treat me like a burden

I often feel like people in my life can be caring…but only for a short time and only if it doesn’t interfere with their own lives. 

There are times I haven’t left my bed for 3 or 4 days. My thoughts have turned against me. My mind battles to stay alive. I hear an overwhelming voice telling me my friends hate me, that they’re talking about me, laughing at me or plotting against me. 

At first it feels like my friends care, check in and worry about me. But soon it feels like I’m a burden and I hear things from them that aren’t helpful.

Opening a dialogue made it easier to ask for support

I first started feeling really low and struggling around two year ago. Two years on and it regularly feels like I’m still stuck in that darkness.

Social media, TV and films seem to romanticise the battles that people with mental health problems face, and feed the idea that people hit a sudden turning point in their recovery and it’s all uphill from there. Well that’s wrong; at least it was for me. I reached breaking point a few months later, after months of lying to all those around me and becoming so isolated that I could barely leave my bedroom.

I can't just "turn off" my anxiety - it's an illness

Many people think that people like me, with anxiety or depression can wake up one day and decide to ‘get better’. That I can wake up one day and decide to ‘smile, drink coffee and deal with it’. But anxiety isn’t something that I can just ‘turn off’. 

Anxiety isn’t something that I choose to have on a Monday and choose to not have on a Sunday. Anxiety isn’t a decision. It isn’t a voluntary thing that I want in my life day in and day out. I can’t just ‘choose to be happy’.

I hid my mental illness after I was told to 'man up'

I'm a 23 year old man, and I've struggled with my mental health for about a decade. What began as having low moods turned into suicidal thoughts, psychosis, addiction, anxieties and depression. At one point I tried to take my own life.

Growing up with these emotions resulted in me feeling very isolated.

I hid my true emotions as best I could growing up because the few occasions when I mentioned I was feeling low, not even depressed, I was told to ‘man up’ or ‘get over it’.

I was afraid to get help because of mental health stigma

I’m 39 years of age and have struggled with my mental health for the majority of those years. I’ve known for a long time it’s been more than depression, but I never felt able to tell anyone just how bad things were. I’ve been through long periods of depression and long periods of what I now know to be mania, and these episodes have lengthened and intensified over the years. After the death of my friend at the end of last year, everything intensified and not getting help was no longer an option.

My mental illness doesn't define who I am

I’m an army veteran who has been diagnosed with anxiety and depression. For a few years now, I have been struggling to cope with my mental health problems. I come from an army infantry background and I completed a full operational tour of Afghanistan in 2014. However unbeknown to me I was battling mental health issues since I was a child. 

These are words that come to mind: rejection, abandonment, sorrow, suffering and no knowledge. Some would say I was destined to wear a jewelled crown upon a troubled brow.

I have a mental illness, but don't judge me by a stereotype

My name is Aida and I’m diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and a type of bipolar disorder.

When I was a kid, I was very introverted and it was hard for me to make new friends due to my shyness. I had insomnia and so many fears, I was even afraid to fall asleep at night. I was also very irritable but besides all these negative things I was generous, kind and I loved smiling and making others laugh.

I won't let the stigma around mental illness hold me back

When I was diagnosed with mental illness I was very lucky to have people around me who did not stigmatise me, who saw me as me and not my diagnosis. However, when I stepped out of my comfort zone and into society, I was hit with the stigma of mental health illness which many people have to battle with from time to time. 

Depression is not simple - it's more than being 'sad'

I've been suffering from depression for just under four years, and depression has a way of replacing your confidence with pure anxiety and self-hatred. 

The scariest thing I found about suffering from a mental illness is the effect it has on every aspect of your life; it’s not just what’s inside your head. For me, suffering from depression became debilitating as I couldn't find happiness in the little things I used to enjoy doing. More often than not, depression would cause me to sit in my room and cry, usually for no reason at all.

I don’t need your advice – I’d rather you sit & listen

In my experience, and I imagine most people’s, dealing with others’ suggestions of what to do about your mental health can be like fending off thrown stones when you’re already down. ‘Why don’t you try’ and ‘you should consider’ ring through your already frazzled mind and make you feel worse for each one you don’t attempt or accomplish. Whether you can’t manage the advised course or have already tried it, or if it’s not right for you, the result is the same – you feel like a failure because of it.

There is no reason to be ashamed of mental health

So here I am, at the end of a whirlwind of an incredible but tough journey. It has taken me over a year to accept that I have Generalised Anxiety Disorder and that I also have an eating disorder. Well actually I’m in recovery for an eating disorder. Thanks to a person-centred service, I now have the strategies and the ability to cope with life.

A lack of compassion left me isolated when I needed help

I had just started working for a new employer following a three-year break in my career due to my mental health problems. I was looking forward to building a new career, developing professional skills, making new friends and finally moving forward in my life.

Opening up about my mental health at work

I’ve always been open about my mental illness in most areas of my life, but until last year I’d never spoken about it at work. I was concerned that if I told colleagues I struggle with general anxiety disorder and depression, it would hamper my progression and I wouldn’t be taken seriously.

Helping someone with depression is easier than you think

It’s hard to tell if a person is depressed unless they break down in front of you or manage to tell you themselves. Depression doesn’t leave scars, not always. And it’s hard to say how bad it is if you can’t see the wound.

If you know someone who’s going through a difficult time, if you have even the slightest doubt, reach out.

I've been judged at work because of my mental health

I saw a lot of employers posting about Mental Health Awareness Week. It is absolutely crucial we start conversations about the realities of mental illness and it’s great that it’s happening, but I wish some employers would stop kidding themselves.

Dealing with mental health is everyone’s business

Everyone has mental health. We all know some days are good and some days are bad. Negative thoughts, intrusive thoughts, our minds confused and not coping day-to-day. 

Stress, anxiety, and depression lead to other mental health problems if they are not recognised, diagnosed or treated in time. Speaking up and seeking help, and receiving it from people who care, is key to a better future.

I was determined not to look like I was struggling

When I was younger, I had an idealised view of university. I created montages in my head of joining societies, making life-long friends and enthusiastically walking to lectures and seminars. In 2016 however, my outlook was different. Throughout my adolescence, I had struggled with anorexia and after a four-year battle, I was now able to become a Psychology student. Yet instead of feeling optimistic, I was filled with an intense fear.

Self-stigma made me keep my mental health a secret

When we think of stigma and mental health, we tend to think of hurtful societal reactions and prejudice based on negative stereotypes. But this is only the tip of the iceberg. Those with mental health problems also frequently suffer from self-stigma. This is where a person takes on wider social prejudices about mental illness, internalizes them, starts to believe and incorporate them into their self-image.

This is how it felt when my anxiety was dismissed

What is it like to live with anxiety in an environment that dismisses you? An environment whose response to your experiences is ‘everyone gets anxious, just get over it!’

I certainly knew this was not the way things were supposed to be from a very early age. I was shy but then why did I feel so much fear at school?

You don't need to understand my mental health - just listen

I’ve suffered with depression for 16 years. The one main thing that triggered it was bullying, but my life has been a story of events and now I believe it’s my time to start talking out and supporting those around me.

My struggle with mental illness has made me a better, more valuable employee

As a leader working for a successful facilities company and, having had a great deal of personal experience with my own mental health, I feel strongly about how I can help to get the conversation going, and raise awareness about mental health with my friends and work colleagues alike.

I'm no longer ashamed of my eating disorder

Some people are probably wondering: how can a personal trainer have anorexia?

My first experience was during my teens and it’s only recently I’ve felt comfortable talking about this often misunderstood illness. I’m now strong enough to want to remove this stigma, make people more aware, and most importantly, help others going through this deadly beast of an illness.

I have PTSD - I need support, not stigma

I remember the first time I talked about my mental health. I was terrified.

What if people thought I was crazy? What if they didn’t believe me and thought I was making it all up for attention? Would they take me away from my parents? Would I still have friends?

Even the strongest people need support sometimes

My mental health problems started on 7 August 2012 at 5.30pm. I got a call from my sister telling me my Dad had gone into cardiac arrest and to get home quickly. By the time I’d got to my flat to drive up to the Midlands I’d had another call to say the paramedics had certified my Dad as dead.

The man who had always been there, always a friend, a power of strength, the person who gave me life, my values and loved me warts and all. My world had been taken from me and I hadn’t had the chance to say goodbye.

All I want is to do well at work - I have a right to mental health support

I am a 38-year-old male, I would and have always been described as one of the lads. I love footy, enjoy a beer and a boisterous lifestyle and I have been diagnosed with depression.

I found it very difficult to admit to myself that I was struggling but I knew something was wrong. My stupid male pride and assumption that I was less of a man for struggling with my mental health lead me to conceal my depression from myself and others.

Anxiety isn't "attention-seeking"

You could ask me one simple question, but my anxiety will turn that into 20 questions within seconds. “Are you okay?” becomes “Why are they asking me that?”, “Do I not look okay?”, “Have I done something?”, “Am I in trouble?”.

That’s the best way I describe it to people. I worry about everything, even to the point I worry about worrying.

A lot of people just say “don’t worry” or “you’ve got nothing to worry about”. I then feel stupid…and then worry about feeling stupid.

Depression isn’t a choice – it can happen to anyone

I was told that my reason for being depressed was “pathetic”, and that I “had plenty of things going” for myself, but depression doesn’t work like that. It doesn’t look at what you have going on in life and avoid you because it doesn’t want to ruin that. 

I wanted the people I care for and confided in to open their hearts and minds to understand that depression isn’t a choice. I didn’t want to be depressed - nobody wants to be depressed. 

Reach out if you see someone in need

I remember the first time I vocalised and admitted the fact that I was struggling with depression and anxiety. Following seven years of sporadic periods of chronic anxiety and panic attacks induced by both smoking marijuana as a teenager and my parents’ break up, I was at university, 22 and suffering a reactive bout of depression triggered by the break-up of a tumultuous relationship.

We can't be 100% all the time - that's nothing to be ashamed of

I am 32 years old, a creative director and brand founder of global beauty brand Isle of Paradise and I am a comedy podcast co-host (yes, some people think I’m funny!). I have a loving partner, a great relationship with my parents and tonnes of amazing friends. I am happy. I’m not lucky. I’ve worked hard for this life, I’ve been nothing but grateful along the way and I haven’t had a life this smooth in the past – trust me.

You can't tell someone is depressed just by looking at them

It’s interesting trying to explain the agony that depression brought into my life to people who are not depressed. I find that people who haven’t fought that particular battle have difficulty understanding what I mean when I say I was not in physical pain per se but I was in excruciating torment nonetheless. Physically, I’m sure my body showed no signs of peril.

You can’t always be there for someone struggling – and that’s ok

‘How can I help?’ and ‘What can I do?’ - these two questions have been at numerous times asked by concerned friends, but as I have pondered what response would best suit the occasion, I’ve never truly answered, because simply, I’ve not known the answer.

How do you let others help you when you don’t always know how to help yourself? That very question for me can be taken on an individual level, and a macroscopic level just as much.

Some people are high-functioning, but that doesn’t invalidate their mental health

Many people might think of a period of poor mental health as being incapable of getting out of bed in the morning, or a severe lack of motivation and reluctance to do anything. Certainly, for many people these symptoms are prominent at times.

However, some who are living with a mental illness, or generally struggling with mental health, are high-functioning. They still live out their day-to-day lives like normal. They go to work, socialise, and function like anyone else.

I work in mental health support – and I can see attitudes are changing

My name is Richard and I’m coming at mental health from the “other side” of the fence.

I have worked in mental health support for over 10 years and, thankfully, have witnessed many improvements in the way in which society in general treats people who experience mental health problems. Don’t get me wrong, there is still a long way to go to eradicate all the discrimination and stigma which affects people with mental health problems; but please allow me to share some of my experiences - from the early days of my flowering interest in mental health to where I think we are now.

My employer made me feel my depression was invalid

People won't always know if you're struggling. Sometimes it feels like being silent is the only viable option. After all, why would you want to burden someone else with your problems?

University helped to lessen my social anxiety

I love learning. Particularly about the mind and behaviour, in both humans and animals. This was my reason to go to university, to pursue the desire to learn, coming out with a better understanding of a topic I was passionate in. I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but I didn’t know it would be this hard.

My anxiety made me feel like I had to be liked

When my husband and I first started seeing each other, he would ask “how do you know them?” a lot. We’d go into shops and restaurants and I’d start chatting on to the assistant or waiter like I’d known them for years. I love people and I love talking but there was something bigger behind it. The truth is that for a long time I chatted to everyone I met because I wanted them to like me. In fact I couldn’t bear the thought they might not, even if it’s likely I would never see them again.

There is no shame in having a mental illness

Mental health awareness is being raised everywhere at the moment. It is a vital step towards ending the stigma surrounding mental health. There is still a lot of work to be done, but it is a start. Stigma is still out there and it is silencing people struggling who need our help!

How are you – really? Being open about my mental health

It's very easy to avoid answering the question ‘how are you?’ - and to be honest, how many of us ask this question out of habit, not really expecting an honest answer? I know that I sometimes do and would be quite surprised if someone said, ‘I feel pretty rubbish actually’.

I know that I avoid being honest when someone asks me this question as I'm worried that others are not really interested, that I’m boring and that I may be perceived as weak and unable to ‘cope’. I blame my childhood and the fact that we had to display ‘a stiff upper lip’ and just ‘get on with it’.

In times of crisis, talking about my mental health kept me going

I remember when someone first spoke to me about my mental health. I'd had a panic attack in college, something that happened quite frequently despite me not realising what a panic attack was at the time, but this time a tutor noticed and advised me to visit a doctor. At this point I thought nothing of it since I'd put my anxiety symptoms down to a physical issue rather than a mental issue, despite struggling with it for two years already, and so I agreed to book a doctor's appointment the following day.

Talking about mental health is only the beginning

As I psych myself up to write this, I contemplate how many things I have had to psych myself up for already today...getting out of bed, getting washed, brushing my hair, eating, driving to work, focusing on conversations, meeting deadlines, remembering what I have to do and in what order, and this is all before midday. This has been a part of my 'routine' for the last 15 years and it is exhausting.

Everything changed with a single conversation

Today, any of my friends would tell you that I am more than happy to talk about mental health openly and without shame. In fact, it's one of my favourite topics of conversation, and I think sometimes people might wish I would give it a rest. But I refuse to stop talking about it, because I know exactly how much impact a single conversation can have, and what it feels like to struggle alone in silence.

Conversations save lives. Make today the day you start one.

Starting a conversation about mental health can feel scary, but it doesn’t have to be. I’m sure there are many times we have all noticed that somebody doesn’t seem quite themselves but haven’t known how to approach them. There is no ‘one size fits all’ formula for a successful sharing session, but there are some things that you can do to make the process feel a little bit easier for you and the other people involved.

Being able to talk about mental health can take a weight off your shoulders

A simple gesture, a simple ‘Hey, how are you?’ can make all the difference in someone’s day. Talking about how the world around you is closing in on you, how you feel alone, how it’s raining gasoline and you’re trying your hardest to resist the urge to set yourself on fire can be very very challenging to talk about especially if you’ve never had that space to talk about it before.

As a teacher with a mental illness, I’m a role model, not a risk

I’m a school teacher with a mental illness.  I was subjected to two years of relentless bullying and constant questioning of my performance. On one occasion, another staff member swore at me because I was anxious. They were relentless in their criticism of the symptoms of my anxiety. Questioning my mental health, my competence and my capabilities as a teacher. This only served to increase my anxiety and upset, the more I got upset, the more they questioned my fitness to teach.

I still don't feel able to talk about the worst parts of my mental health

I remember the first conversation I had about mental health. I didn’t mean to: I must have been about 13, and I’d not been feeling myself for weeks, but I had no idea what was wrong with me. My school friend remarked that I had been quiet recently and didn’t seem myself. Back then I didn’t really know what mental health was and I certainly didn’t put a label on what I was feeling. Now in my late twenties, it’s a relief to put a label on it – and to be able to go online and read stories of others’ experiences.

Talking about mental health will lessen the stigma

Just before Christmas this year I began to have thoughts that weren't entirely to my liking. I put it down to the usual feelings I get around that time. They'll pass.

Christmas came around, the thoughts were getting worse. The nagging thought that something isn't right. I was deeply unhappy. It was only Christmas Day afternoon that I found myself at peace. As a family we were all enjoying time together.

I'm a chatty person - but talking about mental health is hard

I’m no stranger to talking really. In 2014 I went to my first Gamblers Anonymous session and poured my heart out to total strangers. Professionally I can stand in front of 500 people and do a half-hour presentation. I can walk into a pub and introduce myself to absolutely anybody - as long as I am not talking about my mental state.

Removing invisible barriers - talking changes lives

People are scared of the terms ‘mental health problems’ and ‘mental illness.’ It makes many uncomfortable; turn their heads, look at their shoes, anything. Things are changing, but not soon, or fast enough.

I was told I didn't have a reason to be depressed

You have bad days. Your car doesn’t start, you’re late to work, you miss a meeting – it’s a bad day. You just want to get home, put your feet up and write it off because tomorrow is a fresh start – an opportunity to reset your mind and put yesterday down to “just one of those days.” 

Depression had completely changed my life

Sometimes, a little push is needed to get the ball rolling. 

Despite the fear of being perceived as nosy or intrusive it’s important to remember that when it comes to mental health, checking in with someone reminds them they aren’t alone when they’ve gone quiet. 

In the summer of 2018 I found myself struggling with depression more than ever before. Work became increasingly difficult to show up to, I feared confiding in anyone about my mental health because I saw myself as a burden.

Why these university students want to end mental health stigma

"I want mental health to be the same as going 'oh I hurt my ankle', rather than a bit like you have to break down lots of layers to actually admit that sometimes you're struggling."

Students from Exeter University's Film and TV station, XTV, talk about why they want to end mental health stigma. Watch what they have to say:

Labels are not for humans

Every day I wake up to a different version of me. Will I be happy or sad, will I feel safe or scared? It’s not that I am unstable; I have grown to become a master of me. The things I feel because of my Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) aren't invisible to others. I like to think of myself as a warrior in my own right, because I face invisible battles every day. But we all have our own battles, diagnosis or not. Do you know what mood you will be in when you wake up tomorrow?

I was afraid of people judging me

I don’t think depression can be summed up in one image. I think at times it’s a lot of images. I spent some time with my niece a few days after I had felt the lowest I have ever felt. My nieces and nephew mean the world to me. They remind me of the simple joys in life. I had just taken my niece to the park and she was so happy just sitting in a swing and it made me think “Why can’t everyone just feel that happy all the time?”.

Speak up and speak out about mental health

Never one to be the quiet or timid type, it would be difficult to find someone who thinks I’m anything other than boisterous and over-confident. Yet behind this male bravado there’s a sensitivity and vulnerability that I have always tried to mask.

Ask twice to show that you really do care and are ready to listen

Living with a mental illness can be extremely isolating and lonely. The relationship is two-way: others may not reach out as you have been understandably distant due to feeling unwell, and you may not contact others for the same reasons. It’s a vicious cycle.
 

Breaking the silence around mental health

I am not good enough. I am not worthy of love. I am not smart enough. I am not successful enough. I am not slim enough. I am not pretty enough. 
 
I am one of the 1 in 4 people who suffer from mental illness. 

Asking twice gets more people talking about mental health

Picture this. Your everyday. Getting home from a long hard day, something has annoyed you, you’re feeling down, some bad thoughts are circling in your head. A loved one, friend or family member asks, “How was your day?” and you, like every other day, happy or sad, and regardless of your mental state, utter “fine.” But sometimes it isn’t fine. Or even, you haven’t gotten out of bed all day, you feel like you deserved the rest but that isn’t what is keeping you there, and when someone asks if you’re feeling okay “I’m fine” seems to slip out anyway.

10 steps to asking twice if you feel someone isn’t fine

Time to Change has hit the nail on the head for me. Sitting alone in my flat, I realised that I don’t often discuss how I am feeling or what is going on in my head because it is a question that is seldom nor genuinely asked of me! I am rarely asked how I am feeling at all, let alone twice, and so I can appreciate the intent of an “Ask Twice” mentality, especially at a time where we are fighting for a global understanding of mental illness.

Why asking twice helps people open up about their mental health problems

Despite publishing a hundred books at the age of 19, I have been struggling with depression and Asperger’s Syndrome for a very long time. It wasn’t until last year that I decided to speak up about my struggles with mental health. Prior to that, I talked about my issues with mental health in many of the books that I’ve written over the years, but I never addressed it publicly.

Ask twice and start a conversation about mental health

Performing: I make a living out of it. I get on stage and make people laugh. I’m currently on tour doing just that. And I love it. But (and there is a but) even in a dream job, I’m constantly acting like I’m fine when sometimes I’m not. Don’t we all do that though? I mean, that’s part of my job, to entertain when sometimes I hurt inside. But aren’t we all putting on a mask when we are asked a simple question:

“How are you?”

World Mental Health Day: A Letter to My Colleagues

Dear colleagues,

I want to be open with you all about my own mental health, particularly at work and I would appreciate it if you could take the time to finish reading this.

It's hard to talk about mental health, so ask twice.

We all do it, don’t we?

‘How you doing?’

‘Yeah, I’m good thanks.’

Or, in my neck of the woods, ‘I’m alright.’

No further questions your honour.

Most of the time we will be just that: alright; fine; okay. Good, even.

Sometimes though, we won’t be. Sometimes we might feel that our whole world is falling apart. Still, ‘I’m alright.’

But sometimes, all we want is for someone to see. For someone to break through and ask, ‘Are you sure?’

5 ways to ask twice when your mate says I'm fine

When asked “how are you?”, how often do you tell the truth?

Yep, thought so. Don’t worry, I fib too. All the time.

Now, how often, when someone says to you “I’m fine”, do you follow up if you’re think they’re not? Yep, me too.

I’m very fortunate that I have a fiancée, some family members and a handful of mates who seem to sense when my mental health is dipping and know to ask me twice (or more!) if they hear “yeah, fine, you?”.

Now, asking twice doesn’t mean literally saying the same thing again. That would be annoying.

“How are you?”

Mental health needs way more understanding

Just because it’s called a mental health problem, it doesn't mean that I’m ‘mental’. 

I hate the word mental. There are so many negative connotations that surround it; to call a person mental is to call them mad, or out of control, or ludicrous. Yet, unfortunately, I have a condition that is defined as a mental health problem; I have depression.

I Felt Isolated

If you'd asked me about my mental health a year ago, I would have told you I was fine when really, I was struggling. I had a mental illness and I was hiding it. I didn't want to tell anyone because I didn't want people to think I was weird, dangerous or "crazy". The stigma has resulted in me feeling excluded and unable to fit in. It has made me feel isolated and like there is something wrong with me.

The reality of living with OCD

From a very young age, I knew there was something different about me. It seemed to me that everyone around me was separate and I was encased in my own bubble, my own world and it frustrated me to tears that I couldn’t work out how to make that bubble pop. Soon, my bubble solidified. It became glass. It was suffocating and at times, my glass bubble would fill with water, drowning out the minute amounts of happiness, reason, and calm that I had left.

Talking about my mental health was the key

Provide. That’s what us blokes do. Safety, shelter, security, protection. Nothing stops them, nothing phases them, they take on anyone and anything. Straight forward isn’t it? No.

Mental health stigma needs to end

Some people with depression are made to feel like it is their fault for feeling the way they do and are told to simply ‘get out more’ and ‘snap out of it’. Similarly, those who have anxiety or OCD are told to ‘pull themselves together’ and to ‘stop worrying over little things’.

Employees should be encouraged to talk about their mental health

The other day, I wasn’t feeling quite right. A few things were getting on top of me at work and at home, and I was talking to a friend about how I felt. We were discussing whether I should take a day off, and he said that he would never admit that he wasn’t coping to his work, and would probably just say that he was feeling a bit sick.

BPD is not ‘attention seeking’ but a crippling mental illness

Mental illness has a vast and diverse spectrum. In its most simple form, a summary of ill mental health could be; troubles of the mind that has adverse impact on people’s day to day lives. What people often forget is that mental illness may not just affect the recipient, but also the people around them. The chances of encountering ill mental health in a lifetime are approximately one in four, which means if you are lucky enough to escape, you will still most likely be in close contact to someone who hasn’t been as fortunate.

10 things to say to someone with a mental health problem

Recently I’ve come across a number of articles/blog posts about what not to say to a friend/loved one with certain mental health problems. Whilst these are useful, as it’s hard to know what comments could affect others more than you, constantly hearing ‘don’t say this’ and ‘don’t say that’ can make people feel like they have to tiptoe around people who are struggling. This feeling is not necessary and can make the conversation even harder to have than it already is, or prevent it from happening altogether.

Katie's 3 things not to say

"Around mental health in general, there is a lot of stigma attached, a lot of misconceptions and a lot of phrases that tend to get used towards people with mental illness."

Watch Katie talk about the three most unhelpful things you can say to someone with a mental health problem and the impact this has on them: 

Having depression does not make me a failure

As a professional boxer, most people around me only see the finale – me stepping into the ring, in great physical shape and performing well under the lights and cameras. Amidst the occasion, it is easy to assume that everything is fine.

As my family and friends watch me compete, my true state of mind is not really questioned. And so, I continue to war with my 'lower thoughts' just as I do in the ring, alone.

When Darkness Came Knocking: A poem

Written in support of Time to Change....sharing my own experience as a Time to Change Champion will hopefully support others who may be suffering.

By Carol Harte

I felt guilty about my depression

A year ago, I was one of those people who, if someone was stressed or depressed, would probably have thought: “What do they have to be depressed about?”

Little things can reduce mental health stigma

I am ashamed to say that most of my life I have ignored mental health stigma. I am even more ashamed to say that what has woken me up to it, has been my personal experience.

Why so ashamed you might say? We all only tend to care about something once it affects us personally.

My depression was made worse by secrecy

It’s ironic that on Mental Health Awareness Week for 2018 I’ve been signed off sick from work. It wasn’t intentional but it is symbolic. People suffering from mental health problems push themselves too hard for too long trying to pretend that things are OK, pulling a shroud of secrecy over their lives in the hope that people don’t find out how they’re really feeling.

I felt guilty about my anxiety disorder

The thing about mental health issues is this: you and others can't see them.

I remember when I was at my lowest point with anxiety. I remember thinking: “If I break my leg I can go to the doctor and he'll fix it. If I go to the doctor and tell him how I feel, they might never understand what the real problem is.”

Nobody tried to understand my bipolar disorder

I first showed signs of bipolar disorder at the tender age of 17. Family and work colleagues knew that I was not myself but could not understand what had happened to me, so my mum encouraged me to visit the GP. Sadly, he misdiagnosed my symptoms and assumed I had anxiety and depression. I then commenced taking antidepressants.

Mental health is generally dismissed in the Punjabi community

Having gone through difficulties myself during my time at university, I was hugely helped by my housemates who provided a formidable support structure to help me through tough times. Throughout my time at university, we all helped each other with a number of things. We were very close and could speak, share, and discuss pretty much anything. This environment helped a lot.

Women with PMDD aren't listened to

What is premenstrual dysphoric disorder?

Here is what it isn't.

It isn't 'feeling a bit blue' each month. 

It isn't 'just cramps and stuff'. 

It isn't 'getting a bit ratty'. 

I don’t choose to have bipolar or feel this way

I’ve never really talked about my mental health; maybe I’m embarrassed by it or what people will think of me. It often becomes awkward and some people even stop talking to me altogether. Some don’t get it. That’s ok. There’s a lot of illnesses I don’t understand either. Some get annoyed: ‘How can you be sad, what do you have to be sad about, you have a great life. You have me, isn’t that enough for you?’

An open letter to my colleagues about my mental illness

Dear colleagues,

I am sorry.

I realise that my behaviour has impacted those around me, both in the past, and also more recently. I don’t make excuses for the hurt that I’ve caused. And so, I’m writing you this letter because I want you to understand. Because you deserve an explanation and I think this is the best way to give you that explanation. You are honest with me and it is only fair that I do the same.

I made excuses not to talk about my depression

I lived a dual life, a private one and a public one, with depression for many years. To the outside world I had a great life – a lovely family, successful career and healthy lifestyle. But inside I was battling almost every day to simply survive, thinking I didn’t deserve any of it.

Depression is not the same as having a bad day

Many people know me as the person who laughs, smiles and jokes. But not many people know me as the person with a mental health condition. The reason for that is that there is no way of telling if somebody has a mental health condition.

Mental health in the Black community is still a taboo

As I've gotten older, it's become more apparent to me that talking about mental health in the Black and Asian communities is still very much a taboo topic and hardly ever spoken about. Over the last several years, I have made it my mission to break the stigma of mental health issues, especially in these communities.

My experience on a psychiatric ward was not what people expected

‘You’re being admitted to a mental health unit’ were words I struggled to comprehend. How can I be so high functioning in the legal profession and simultaneously require admission? One minute I was at work and the next minute I found myself at the local Accident and Emergency. I felt vulnerable as the ambulance took me to the unit, and then terrified as I stepped inside the unit and the doors locked behind me. The fear of the unknown consumed me. I felt like the tiniest fish in the biggest ocean.

Anxiety can be more terrifying than people imagine

These photos were taken just hours apart. I know the second one may be shocking, and certainly not the kind of picture anyone would be rushing to share on social media! However, I'm posting it because I know months ago, before I was diagnosed with anxiety, I thought I was the only person in the world who felt the way I did.

Talking about my self-harm helped me feel less ashamed

It is estimated that 4 in 100 people in the UK struggle with self-harm. It is one of the most common coping mechanisms for those suffering mental illnesses, yet it is still a taboo subject.

Self-harm is when someone intentionally harms or injures themselves. It is often a way of coping with overwhelming thoughts and feelings, and is very misunderstood.

People didn't think a man in his thirties could have an eating disorder

People like opposites. Right or wrong. Pass or fail. Leave or remain.

It’s how I often think about my mental health. I am well or ill. Recovered or relapsed. Coping or not coping.

Three years into my recovery from anorexia, I’m learning to admit that my mental health is not black or white. I’m learning how to talk about not being 100%.

As a man who loves both musical theatre and rugby, I am not anyone’s model of traditional masculinity. Fun for me is found in the shades of grey. In disagreement and debate. In diversity.

I was frightened to tell people about my OCD

When my therapist told me that I might be experiencing something called OCD, I nearly fell off my chair. Isn't OCD all about washing your hands 100 times a day?

I couldn't believe how much I didn't know about it. My therapist was amazing and took me through everything, then gave me a leaflet to go home and have a read through. 

You can’t see my anxiety but it is still there

To paint a background, I have a loving family, an incredible wife and two wonderful kids. My brothers are two of my best friends and I’m very close to my parents.

“You’ve always been a worrier”. This is true, but I mostly managed to deal with or largely ignore it. However, the past couple of years have become uncontrollable, and at points, quite unbearable.

People with mental illness are real people too

There is a secret; one that nobody is prepared to talk about; one so shocking it may bring down society as we know it. Am I talking about a scandal, or some sort of political corruption? Am I talking about some secret society that quietly rules over us, or perhaps I am talking about the fact we are all lizard people. While I would infinitely prefer to talk about any one of these things, I am in fact talking about the truth that, literally, nobody is talking about. I am talking about the fact that people with mental illness walk among us.

I was never encouraged to discuss mental health in my community

My gruelling battle with depression has been somewhat of a pilgrimage, without the heavenly resolution at the end of the journey. The experience could be described as a paradox. I savour the essence of being alone. However, that idealism is detrimental to my mental health.

You don’t need a PhD in psychology to talk about mental health

What’s more awkward? Making a colleague a cuppa and asking how they’re doing, or running through the DSM-V diagnostic criteria for depression to ascertain whether they require a professional referral? Any idea what I’m talking about?

The point is, you don’t need to know all this stuff to have a conversation about mental health. And even if you did, I doubt anyone would thank you for using it as an ice breaker.

Why not start conversations whenever and wherever?

It’s Time to Talk Day, so I want to share the message that talking about mental health does not need to be something to be ashamed or embarrassed of. This means breaking down stigma and opening doors. Perhaps, the door to the doctor’s surgery. Or the door to the quiet room outside, where I believe it is okay to talk.

Managing the black dog that is depression

I’ve spent the past 15 years of my career – in recruitment and HR – raising awareness of disability issues in the workplace, encouraging individuals to disclose disabilities to employers, coaching partners through assessment and hiring decisions, encouraging candidates to choose a firm where they can show their true self at work and, above all else, selling the supportive culture of the law firms for which I have worked.

Mental health is dismissed within my culture

Mental health was not a term known to me until around two years ago. I didn’t know anything about the importance of your own wellbeing, nor did I understand the devastating impact it would have on people I know. If I know anything about mental health issues it’s through my own research after a conversation with colleagues or friends. Whilst I love my heritage, the reason I knew nothing of about it is probably down to my culture and community. 

Some people still don't 'believe' in depression

When I’m really struggling internally, I overcompensate externally. Think Ross from Friends when he finds out about Rachel and Joey. That episode struck a chord with me because I’ve lost count of the times when I’ve tried to put on a good show and ended up looking like an absolute idiot. I’d get all loud and animated; try to be funny; try to convince others and myself that there’s nothing wrong. They say the unhappiest people are the ones that seem the happiest. For a large chunk of my school days, that was me. My face was laughing and smiling but my eyes weren’t.

Mental health shouldn’t be a taboo subject

It's never easy telling someone about your mental health. It's never easy trying to explain the heavy feeling in your chest, the lack of motivation you have, the heavy head and whirlwind of sad thoughts constantly sitting in the back of your head. 

Why OCD isn’t about being a ‘neat freak’

For as long as I can remember, I have heard people say they are "so OCD" or "I definitely have OCD", a throw away comment because they had just spent an hour deep cleaning their house or they had to straighten a wonky picture on the wall. Comments that made me doubt and question myself for years. Why? Because all along I was suffering with OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) yet I wasn't aware.

Friends didn't judge me for having BPD

Having friends in my corner has made the prospect of recovery seem possible - something I spent years believing wasn’t. One thing that always made me sceptical, about disclosing my mental health difficulties to friends, was the fear of them judging me and no longer wanting to be friends, due to the stigma associated with my illness: Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).

Talking about my mental health inspired my mates to do the same

I’m unsure I’ve ever been described as an ‘inspiration’, until now. Should it even matter?

I think it does because words – carefully-chosen or not – can shape attitudes. How often have we watched, or read about, a Paralympian’s medal-winning success and the adjective ‘inspirational’ has been used? It’s meant as a sincere compliment, and yet an unintended consequence may be to reinforce what makes them different.

Talking about mental health with mates has been life-changing

We are Emma and Sophie and two years ago we bumped into each other while we were out for dinner. We had been really good friends in the past but had fallen out of touch over the last few years. We had never meant to lose touch but we had both been scared that too much time had gone by to reconnect.

People’s reactions to my mental illness made it harder to deal with

When I first started battling with my mental health, I thought the mental illness would be the hardest thing to deal with - little did I know that other people’s reactions to said mental illness would make the battle into a war. Ultimately it feels like an attack on you, as your illness is part of who you are. In reality, it’s due to a lack of understanding.

My parents told me prayer would fix my mental health, but now I talk about my feelings

I grew up in a family where we didn't talk about mental health so all the issues I was dealing with were swept under the rug. I was always told to pray about it because prayer solved everything and I knew/felt that wasn't true. I wanted to talk about it and find out why I felt the way I did or why I hurt myself, physically and mentally, the way I did, but no one in my family wanted to help me with that.

I’d rather people ask questions about my schizophrenia, than assume

Responses from employers, when they have discovered that I have schizoaffective disorder, have been wide ranging. This has been from the humiliation of being marched unceremoniously from the premises, by a ridiculous number of panicked little men in ill-fitting suits, or to the wonderful rare occurrence of the university HR department last month, who talked me through my fear of speaking to a lecture hall full of first year students.

Being a Time to Change Young Champion has given me a voice

Becoming a Time to Change Young Champion has completely changed the way I live; it has given me the confidence to talk openly, without shame or fear, about my mental health. I no longer feel I need to lie about my experiences, or worry that conversations about my health will make others and myself feel uncomfortable. I have learnt a lot by sharing my experiences and I hope I have helped others too.

Being open about mental health is good news for employers and staff

I first experienced warning signs of my impending breakdown in autumn 2008. I'd been working long hours in a major bank, the financial crisis was kicking off and there were widespread rumours of large scale redundancies - or even the bank going bust. I’d just bought a house, my girlfriend's income was fairly unpredictable, and we were quite stretched financially.

Finally talking about my depression is such a relief

Talking about it is such a relief, although it has taken me two decades to realise it. My story started when I was a child. Witnessing my incredible Mother experience two horrific mental breakdowns really affected me more than I could ever recognise being so young. I couldn't understand why she would be in tears on a daily basis, and shielded from us by my Father as she just couldn't cope with life itself. It wasn't until my own breakdown recently that it suddenly dawned on me just how dreadful coping can be during these times.

7 mental health conversations from my relationship

1. “I’m actually a little obsessive compulsive myself.”

That’s the first time I mentioned my mental health to my boyfriend. I can’t remember it exactly but we were still getting to know each other on a dating app and he was telling me about his neat-freak flatmate.

It was a bit of a white lie because I’m actually very obsessive compulsive. So much so that I was given a diagnosis of Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD) along with the accompanying depression and anxiety.

Talking about my suicidal thoughts showed who my friends are

Suicide is a big word! From seeing it portrayed in the media to reading people’s personal stories, either a family’s experience or the person themselves, it can be scary to even think about. My journey with it began when someone close to me experienced suicidal thoughts, but I never really understood what they were going through at the time, how it could affect someone mentally and physically – feeling so low and wanting to never tell anyone about what you’re going through.